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O'Shaughnessy, E. (1990). Can a Liar be Psychoanalysed. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 71:187-195.

(1990). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 71:187-195

Can a Liar be Psychoanalysed

Edna O'Shaughnessy

Though common, lying has been little studied. There are many kinds of liars and lies, and this paper studies one sort, the habitual liar, to whom psychoanalysis has so far given little encouragement, since a liar who is characterologically a liar rather than a truth-teller seems so inauspicious a subject for a psychoanalysis.

Can a habitual liar be psychoanalysed? An analyst who considers this question comes at once upon a paradox. Psychoanalysis is founded on truthfulness, yet for a liar to be himself he must lie in his analysis, so that a basic contradiction appears at the outset which we fear may make analysis impossible. We have also the opposite response. Lying is surely, like any other symptom, a manifestation of disturbance, and, moreover, psychoanalysis has always recognized the human need for, and been ready to work with, a variety of forms of untruth—denial, disavowal, misconception, distortion, delusion. So why not the lie? There is in fact a little about lying in the literature—in connexion with the condition of pseudologica phantastica (e.g. Deutsch, 1922); (Fenichel, 1939); (Hoyer, 1959), delinquency (e.g. Karpman, 1949), the defence of denial (Anna Freud, 1966), adoption phantasies (Sherick, 1983), thinking (Bion, 1970). Blum (1983) describes clinically a single central lie by a patient which 'surprisingly proved to be analysable', and Bollas (1987) describes an attempt to understand a habitual liar. Might we analysts not be like the philosophers who solved the logical Paradox of the Liar with a theory of types and levels of discourse, and succeed in understanding and analysing a habitual liar, if we, too, could get the level—in this case, the emotional level—right? My view, even though, as I discuss later, our fears of a fundamental antagonism between a liar and a psychoanalysis are justified and the transference problems are grave, is that we can.

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